This is not Cell Block D at your local Supermax. It’s the last word in architectural experimentation on the poorest and most vulnerable of Los Angeles. On South Hope Street of all places.
According to the New York Times’s architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, this hope-sapping building, the latest in a series for the Skid Row Housing Trust, will “deliver a major blow to the conventional notion of contemporary architecture as little more than an indulgence of the rich or highly cultured.” Really? Seems to me the professional elite are still indulging themselves, only with public funds and on people who have little choice in the matter. And this is not the first time.
Though there is more to the problem of social housing than simply the architecture, any rational person can’t help but foresee a repeat of the Pruitt-Igoe fiasco. It too was lauded by the architecture critics of its day. Doesn’t that courtyard look like an invitation to a drug dealer?
This is the way social housing used to look.
Now that is a courtyard, with vegetation, and water, and a place in the sun! Founded by the Mendicant Friars in 1601, Venice’s Hospice of San Lazzaro was designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi with a little bit of help from Antonio Sardi. The facade of the chapel, below, is classic Venetian Renaissance: a composite order pediment, a Roman bath window, a Corinthian portal, all crowned with the statues of saints. The rest of the building sports simple block cornices, typical Venetian windows, and the standard stucco and stone.
The poor and the downtrodden used to be treated like royalty by comparison to today. They were given a dignified place in the social order. There is no experimentation here with forms designed to evoke the dehumanized isolation of the arid post-industrial world. There is only the drive to learn from history, to make use of those solutions which have proven themselves, and to build a beautiful world for man as we know him to be–not as some might wish him to be. Surely those are the necessary first steps to getting people who have lost their way back on their feet.Tags: ouroussoff